UNCA Uses Noon Briefing to Demand First Question for Those Who Pay, Despite Evo Morales Fiasco

On February 20, Bolivia’s president Evo Morales was repeatedly cut off and urged to cede the first question in his quinoa press conference to an unelected representative of the UN Correspondents Association.

  On February 21, UNCA’s president came to claim that even at the UN’s daily noon briefing, it is “tradition” that UNCA should always get the first question. The Free UN Coalition for Access questioned this, asking if Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman Martin Nesirky had called on the CBS reporter — she does not want to be named — as one journalist among many, or as the UNCA president. In the latter case, FUNCA objects.

[February 21 video here, from Minute 13 then 15:22; the February 20 Evo Morales fiasco video is here, from Minute 4:55 to 6:05.]

   The basis of the objection was not only that UNCA had created a “fiasco” during the Evo Morales press conference, drawing negative comments to the UN from all over the world – click here for sample complaint against UNCA from Germany.

  Also, since UNCA charges nearly $100 a year for dues giving its members the first question would constitute conditioning this access to the UN to the payment of money.

   This point was raised by UNCA’s own annual meeting on February 15, when Falk’s first vice president from Reuters – who counts the number of times he is named, apparently in order to try to turn reporting into a threat or even, as with UNCA’s president, into a crime, if only a thought crime – said that the UNCA seat for the first question was not limited to the Executive Committee but was for any UNCA member. Audio here, Part 1.

  The only requirement, as for the UNCA representative who heckled Evo Morales, is the payment of the nearly $100 in dues. Pay to play?

   Contrary to the “new” UNCA president’s claim, a simple review of webcast archives of UN noon briefings over the past six years will show that it is not at all the tradition for UNCA to get the first question at regular noon briefings. In fact, when the new UNCA president on January 31 cited UNCA in a first question to Nesirky’s deputy Eduardo Del Buey, even Del Buey had to laugh. It was unheard of.

  In mid 2012, according to documents obtained under the US Freedom of Information Act from Voice of America, UNCA “met with UN officials (very quietly)” to get Inner City Press thrown out.

  Voice of America, saying it had the support of Reuters and Agence France Presse, made the request on June 20, 2012.

   The UN confirmed receipt - but once the request was exposed and VOA got calls from Congress, the process stopped.

   On February 21, UNCA’s president insisted on making a “right to reply” to what had been Inner City Press’ question, and pontificatd that “for almost six decades” UNCA has been having a first question because it supposedly represents the vast majority of media covering the UN.

  In fact, UNCA represents less than ten percent of the journalists accredited to cover the UN, and an even smaller percentage of reporters worldwide who cover the UN.

  In recent years, UNCA has become a plaything of a small number of big media, to get themselves big offices and, as happened in 2012, to try to throw other media who dare stand up to them out of the UN.

   All of this has been raised to the UN. FUNCA has met with the head of the Department of Public Information, who has most recently confirmed receipt of FUNCA’s list of ten reforms needed to the UN accreditation and Media Access Guidelines.

   After weeks of UNCA “leaders” tearing down, defacing and counterfeiting Free UN Coalition for Access flyers while maintaining their own glassed-in bulletin board (on which they posted a letter denouncing the investigative Press for five months in 2012), FUNCA has been told that a new “open” bulletin board had been ordered. Watch this site.

From the UN’s February 21, 2013 transcript:

Inner City Press: I have some other stuff as a question, but I wanted to make sure to be able to ask this one. It’s a very simple one, it has to do with how these briefings are conducted, and I just want to say for the last couple of days, each time you’ve called on [NAME REDACTED IN THIS CONTEXT], I don’t know if this is in the context of [United Nations Correspondents Association], and the reason that I ask it is that yesterday there was a briefing here by the President of Bolivia, and there was something of a minute-long — I would call it a fiasco — in which it was said it is a tradition that UNCA [United Nations Correspondents Association] get the first question; he [Evo Morales] continued to call on somebody else, it went around and around, so I just wanted to be sure, is it a tradition in the noon briefing to give UNCA the first question? Because, if so, I object because they have said that the same seat will be given to any UNCA member who are, in fact, paying dues and it creates a situation in which, basically, people are required to pay money to get the first question, and I would encourage the UN not to create, allow or permit such a tradition.